Stonehenge Road Workforce Housing Project Gets Re-Hearing

After consulting with the Town attorney and discussing the facts of the case, the Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously to re-hear variance requests for a workforce housing project on Stonehenge Road.

The Board voted at their Dec. 17 meeting to deny developer Raja Khanna of Windham variances to allow construction of 24 units per building where 16-unit buildings are allowed, completion of the project over three years rather than six years, and a reduction of the minimum workforce housing occupancy requirement from 75 percent to 50 percent. The development is to be constructed at 30 Stonehenge Road and 113 Hardy Road.

The Board is subject to the requirements of the Workforce Housing Statute; and, as such, the Board was required to review the information the applicant presented, to request more information if necessary, and to consider the waiver for the project as a workforce housing development. The evidence presented by the applicant, primarily that the project wouldn’t be financially viable without the waivers, requires the waivers be granted, according to documents requesting the re-hearing that Khanna’s attorney, Kathleen Sullivan of Wadleigh, Starr and Peters of Manchester, filed with the Town on Jan. 15.

According to a report from Russell Thibeault of Applied Economic Research, which the applicant presented to the Board when they originally considered his waiver requests, the project would have an additional construction cost of approximately $4.5 million if the variances were not granted, resulting in a negative rate of return to investors of 1.9 percent.

“As long as we’re not dooming them and their financial investment, I don’t think the amount of their profit should really concern us,” member Annette Stoller said.

 “I can’t imagine we should have to make every project that comes before us financially viable,” member Neil Dunn said. “I’d like to get some guidance from the Town attorney on that.”

Additionally, the documents filed requesting a re-hearing claim the Board was heavily influenced by testimony from members of the public that wasn’t relevant to the waiver requests.

“There were some untrue assertions,” Stoller said. “Particularly that everyone went along with the statistics that were presented.”

“There were misstatements in the application and I would like those cleared up. But I would like some guidance from the Town Council, as well,” Dunn said.

Building Inspector Richard Canuel told the Board it’s possible they may be able to get some guidance from the Town Council and town attorney with regard to whether or not the Town has met its fair share of workforce housing, noting it may be difficult to deny the variances without some hard data.

“On the night of the Board meeting, the Town was not in possession of any reports or findings concluding that the Town had met its regional need for workforce housing. The Planning Board has not recommended nor has the Town Council adopted findings concluding that the Town has met its regional need,” the documents filed with the Town argue.

That may not be completely true – the night of the meeting, Town Councilor Jim Butler advised the Board the study the applicant is relying on to prove Londonderry hasn’t yet met its workforce housing obligation is outdated.

“We have over 200 workforce housing units in the pipeline,” Butler told the board, noting there’s a more updated draft of the Southern  New Hampshire Planning Commission’s 2010 report. “A draft titled ‘Moving Southern New Hampshire Forward,’ which covers 2010-2020, indicates Londonderry needs only 187 units to meet its fair share of workforce housing. In the pipeline now, we have over 200 units. If that’s the case, I think, personally, we need to take a stand. I’m all in favor of helping out and having workforce housing, but I don’t want to be abused as a taxpayer.”

“We need to be careful with regard to what we’re trying to do with this case,” Chairman James Smith said. “One of the things I take out of what I’ve read and seen about this is the very fact this ordinance is on the books means the Town, the Planning Board and the Council have made the determination the Town needs this type of housing. It’s within their purview to change the Ordinance or withdraw the Ordinance or make a further determination if the Town has that need. But that’s really not up to us to make that determination.”

The re-hearing is to be scheduled for a meeting in February. The applicant and members of the public will have an opportunity to weigh in.

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